Tom Paxton On His 80th Birthday Celebration At The Schimmel Center, Working With Jon Vezner, And Halloween

An influence on many of music’s influential musicians, the music of Tom Paxton has been performed by Harry Belafonte, John Mellencamp, Miranda Lambert, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, John Denver, and Bob Dylan, to name a few key artists. Paxton, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and folk icon, was a key figure in the early 1960s Greenwich Village scene. In the years since, Paxton has performed thousands of concerts around the world, and songs like “The Last Thing On My Mind,” “Ramblin’ Boy,” “Bottle Of Wine,” “Whose Garden Was This,” and “The Marvelous Toy” remain standards.

In celebration of the singer/songwriter’s 80th birthday, New York’s Schimmel Center and Virginia’s Birchmere will be holding October, 2017, tribute concerts in honor of Paxton; October 28 and 29, respectively.

The Schimmel Center’s tribute on October 29 is scheduled to include special performances by The DonJuans, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, David Amram, and the Tom Chapin Band. But things do not slow down for Paxton after turning 80, as the artist is currently working on a new album and has international concert dates already confirmed. Beyond his traditional recorded output, known to be prolific and contemporary, Paxton regularly creates “short shelf life songs” about current events, which he performs in concert when the time is right.

To learn more about Tom Paxton, this writer not only spoke to the folk legend himself, but also to Jon Vezner of The DonJuans via e-mail. More on Paxton can be found at, while tickets and other information for the Schimmel Center is online at

You will be celebrating your 80th birthday at the Schimmel Center. How did the idea for a birthday-related tour come up?

Tom Paxton: Folks started talking about 80 being a big one, and somebody suggested making the Birchmere date a celebration, and someone else suggested we do the same with the Schimmel. I say, any excuse for a party!

How did the Schimmel Center come to be your chosen venue for your New York tribute show? Had you been there before?

Tom Paxton: Never been there before, but I’ve heard nothing but good about it.

What should be expected from the upcoming birthday shows? Will you be collaborating with other artists?

Tom Paxton: We have some wonderfully-talented pals showing up to hoot with me: Tom Chapin and his group, The DonJuans, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Steve Earle, David Amram, and others. I’m following the Tom Sawyer fence-painting method; get enough friends to do the work and you won’t have to do any of it yourself!

Do you have any plans or projects you are working on besides the birthday shows?

Tom Paxton: I’m touring with The DonJuans and also writing with them, the long-term aim being a CD of co-writes. We’ll be touring the U.K., Denmark, and Norway in April.

I have read that your actual birthday is on Halloween. Did that change the way you felt about Halloween growing up?

Tom Paxton: I love Halloween. Great parties as a kid. Ghosts step to one side when I’m out walking. Professional courtesy.

Have you been working on any “short shelf life songs” lately?

Tom Paxton: More the long-form kind. I do have a Trump song in the works.

Is there a career goal you are still working toward?

Tom Paxton: Doing the perfect concert. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

Your music has been covered by many notable artists. Do you have a favorite cover?

Tom Paxton: I’m too cagey to name an absolute favorite, but I’ve been knocked out by recordings by Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger.

When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?

Tom Paxton: I love to play golf with my pals. At home I read history and listen to classical music. In the car I try to keep up with CDs by my friends.

Jon, do you remember the first time you heard Tom Paxton?

Jon Vezner: The first time I heard Tom or at least his recordings were the early to mid-’60s. The first time I played with him was in the round in Nashville about 25 years ago.

What will you be performing at this concert for Tom? Any idea?

Jon Vezner: I’m not exactly sure all that we’ll be playing with him aside from the some of the standards. I do know we’ll be performing a couple that we wrote together.

What’s coming up for you aside from this event at the Schimmel Center?

Jon Vezner: We’re on the road quite a bit. Moab Folk Festival, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and U.K. in the spring.

Tom, what was the last concert you attended for fun?

Tom Paxton: Kathy Mattea — a complete knockout.

Finally, any last words for the kids?

Tom Paxton: Make the music you love — and only you can decide what that sounds like.

Jon Vezner: If you are an aspiring songwriter or interested in songwriting, you need to see Tom.

[Featured Image by Katlyn Morahan]